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Did David Mamet Lose His Mind? Or Just His Soul? Old Play Opens Tonight



In 2011 a budding actor friend of mine played the role of Charlie Fox in a college production of David Mamet's 1988 play Speed-the-Plow. Mamet, worth $20 million today, came to the college and watched the play and told my friend he had great stage presence. That was some praise since Ron Silver had played the role in the Broadway production and won a Tony for Best Actor. I was general manager of Sire Records at the time of the Broadway production and Madonna was our biggest artist. She played the role of Karen in the play but I had an undefined creepy feeling about Mamet and didn't go to any of the 279 performances.


That intuitive feeling of mine about it predated the infamous piece he wrote for the Village Voice 20 years later Why I Am No Longer A 'Brain-Dead Liberal'. Already a rabid anti-Palestinian extremist, he gradually turned into a shrill and sociopathic right-wing nut who seems to be laboring under the delusion that Trump was a "great president." He's bought in on all of the crazy now-- from anti-gun control, anti-Colin Kaepernick to insisting, in his badly-written lunatic fringe book, Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch, that Trump was cheated out of reelection.


On Monday, Deadline reported that "With the high-profile, starry revival of his American Buffalo opening Thursday on Broadway, playwright David Mamet seems to be doing his best-- or worst-- to make headlines. The latest: The conservative Mamet told Fox News’ Mark Levin on Sunday night that 'teachers are inclined, particularly men because men are predators, to pedophilia.' The offensive take comes just a few days after Mamet’s appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, in which the playwright offered a muddled retraction of a claim made in his new book Recessional: The Death of Free Speech and the Cost of a Free Lunch. When asked by Maher about his statement in the book that the left attempted a coup during the last presidential election, Mamet conceded that he 'misspoke.' But his appearance on Fox News’ Life, Liberty & Levin-- again, to promote the book, not the play-- wasn’t so conciliatory. Speaking on the hot-button topic of community and parental control in schools, Mamet said: 'We have to take back control. If there’s no community control of the schools, what we have is kids being not only indoctrinated but groomed in a very real sense by people who are-- whether they know it or not-- sexual predators. Are they abusing the kids physically? No, I don’t think so, but they are abusing them mentally and using sex to do so. This has always been the problem with education, is that teachers are inclined, particularly men because men are predators, to pedophilia. And that’s why there were strict community strictures about it, thank God. And this started to break down when the schools said, You know what? We have to teach the kids about sex. Why? Because what if they don’t do it at home?'"


Once a teacher himself, I guess he knows-- at least about one predatory pedophiliac. Mamet's revival of American Buffalo (1975) opens tonight. Yesterday, Marc Tracy, writing for the NY Times, noted that Mamet's high profile carryings on lately "are hardly standard fare for preshow publicity. But they are very much in keeping with his long history of pushing hot buttons-- and with his late-career embrace of conservatism and support for Trump." In Recessional "he complains about the 'plandemic' coronavirus lockdowns, decries 'the Left’s anti-Trump psychosis' and suggests that it was Democrats and the media who threatened 'armed rebellion' in the event that their preferred candidate lost the 2020 election.'


His homophobic ranting on Fox got a response from Tony Award-winning actor Colman Domingo who tweeted on Monday, "American Theater. Do your duty. Take out the trash. Buffalo’s, Plows and all." Mark Harris also tweeted on Monday, "At a time of increasing threats to gay people, David Mamet has chosen to ally himself with the purveyors of a vicious ugly slander that will endanger teachers and LGBT Americans. It’s inexcusable."


The new revival of American Buffalo-- one of his most admired works, and one often read as a critique of capitalism, in a production starring Fishburne, Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss-- will test his ability to play on one of his main fields, Broadway. And it will offer an indication of whether, at a moment of intense political polarization, audiences are still receptive to works by artists they may disagree with.
In his new book, Mamet is pessimistic on the market for challenging plays, warning that theater on Broadway has largely been replaced by pageantry, complaining of the “fatuity of issue plays” and bemoaning the demise of the “knowledgeable Broadway audience” in an era when its theatergoers are mostly tourists.
“They come to Broadway exactly as they come to Disneyland,” he writes in Recessional, published by the HarperCollins imprint Broadside. “As in that happiest place, they do not come to risk their hard-earned cash on a problematic event. (They might not like the play nor appreciate being ‘challenged’; they might just want a break after a day of shopping.)”
...Much earlier, Mamet appeared to question the liberal outlook that he has said surrounded him in the theater world with his 1992 play Oleanna. Depicting a disputed sexual harassment allegation a female student makes against a male professor, it was read as interrogating political correctness. For Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater, Oleanna-- which Eustis saw in its original run at the Orpheum Theater in the East Village featuring Mamet’s longtime collaborator William Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet’s wife-- was evidence of a shift.
Mamet’s early plays, Eustis said, are “tremendously morally ambiguous and complex.” With Oleanna, argued Eustis, who has never worked with Mamet, “he actually started to put his finger on the scale.”
But Leslie Kane, an English professor emerita at Westfield State University who wrote several scholarly books about Mamet and said she grew close to him and his family, perceived a through line between Mamet’s long-held obsessions as an artist and some of his later political stances. “His concern is language and the ability to use language,” she said, adding, “I think that’s what he believes: In our current environment, restrictions on speech require that people in society must watch what they say.”
But Mamet, who has made free speech a central issue lately, is not a fan of post-show discussions of his own works featuring members of the productions. In 2017 he made news with a stipulation that none of the discussions, known as talkbacks, could be held within two hours of performances of his plays, calling for a fine of $25,000 for each offense. In his new book he says talkbacks are “transforming an evening at the theater into an English class.”

UPDATE: Mamet's Freaking Out!


Historian Rick Perlstein informed me today that he thinks Mamet's ex-wife got the Speed-the-Plow royalties in their divorce settlement. "The better it does, the angrier he'll get..."

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